Reports of Suspected Child Abuse on the Rise Following Sandusky Scandal
It has to be one of the few positive developments in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky scandal. More people are reporting suspected child abuse cases in Center County and across Pennsylvania.
The Centre County Child and Youth Services fielded 225 reports of suspected child abuse in 2012. That number is up from 185 reports in 2011, 180 reports in 2010, and 160 reports in 2009, says Centre County CYS director Julia Sprinkle.
In 2012 the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare received 26,664 reports of suspected child and student abuse statewide, an increase of 2,286 reports from 2011. There were 24,378 reports of suspected child abuse in 2011, according to the Annual Child Abuse Report.
An increase in suspected child abuse reporting doesn't necessarily mean more children are being victimized. It means more people are recognizing the signs of abuse and doing something to stop it.
Heightened awareness of child abuse – recognizing the signs and knowing how to alert authorities to get the proper help for children – was sparked in part by the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse trial in June 2012. Joyce Lukima, Vice President of Services at the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape believes the Sandusky trial played a role in making adults more aware of child abuse, specifically sexual abuse.
"They're now really seeing they can play an active role in getting help for children they believe have been abused," Lukima says.
In 2012, 65 of the 225 reports received by Centre County CYS were suspected child sexual abuse. Sprinkle says 23 of the 65 reports were "indicated" – which means investigators believe child abuse had occurred – and 42 were "unfounded," meaning that abuse was not detected.
There were 158 reports of physical abuse against children and two reports of emotional abuse in Centre County, Sprinkle said. Both reports of emotional abuse were unfounded as were 11 reports of physical abuse.
Just because a report goes "unfounded" does not mean Centre County CYS closes the investigation altogether, Sprinkle says. If issues linger, certain services may still be offered to the family in question.
When a report is made, Sprinkle says there are a number of options for the child. Sometimes, the assailant will be arrested, convicted, and put in jail – as was serial child predator Sandusky. If a child is being victimized by someone they live with that child may be sent to live with another family member.
Sprinkle also attributes the rise in awareness and the increased reports of suspected child abuse to the efforts made by several organizations around the county.
"I like to think it's the fine work of some of our partners in the community who know what to look for, such as the YMCA, the Centre County Women's Resource Center, and Darkness To Light. They're educating the community and bringing more awareness to people," Sprinkle said.
Lukima said the Sandusky trial heightened the sense of responsibility in adults to learn and understand the signs of child abuse. The acknowledgement by adults that they can do something takes significant weight off of a child's shoulders.
"Adults are more aware now; they notice things in a child's behavior, or they may see a relationship that raises some red flags. We're getting adults to pay more attention as opposed to having children speak up," Lukima said. "This is part of what we need to do."
Some hesitation may still remain, however. Lukima said many people worry about what will happen if they report suspected child abuse; where the young victim might end up. It's not about taking a child away from his or her home, Sprinkle said, but rather, getting the child and the family the support they need.
Lukima says the best thing to do is to make a report whenever child abuse is suspected. A trained investigator will take over the case and determine the best possible next step.
What's most important is providing a safe environment for children, Sprinkle said, so that they can come forward and seek the help they need.
"More people are recognizing when [abuse] is happening and more people are getting the help and support they need," Lukima said.
In Centre County, many more people now know about organizations such as Centre County CYS and the Women's Resource Center, which offer support to victims, even if it's just someone to talk to.
According to Sprinkle, "People say, 'I didn't even know you guys existed,' and we say to them that there's somebody that cares about the children,"